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Levels of Chimney Inspections

While most homeowners know that regular maintenance is an important part of chimney upkeep, few go beyond an occasional cursory cleaning. Unfortunately, this means that many chimneys and fireplaces do not receive the annual inspections they need.

“A chimney inspection is like an annual dental check-up,” Director of Education for the CSIA Ashley Eldridge said. “It’s preventative maintenance that helps minimize potential hazards.”

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In addition to making sure there are no potential safety hazards associated with your chimney or fireplace, annual inspections are helpful in that they often uncover minor problems before they turn into major issues. This can include making recommendations for small repairs such as waterproofing a chimney structure or fixing damaged sections of masonry.

According to National Fire Protection Agency standards, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.” To follow this standard, the NFPA created three levels of chimney inspections.

Level I

A Level I inspection is all that is needed for homes where the fireplace system is regularly used, there have been no apparent issues, and there have been no changes or modifications to the fireplace or chimney. During a Level I inspection, technicians will inspect all accessible areas of the interior and exterior of the chimney for signs of damage or decay. This includes checking the chimney and flue for signs of obstructions, debris, or creosote buildup.

Following a Level I inspection, the technician should give you a report of the overall health of your fireplace system and make the suggestion of any needed repairs. If any issues are spotted, a Level II or Level III inspection may be recommended.

Level II

Level II inspections are most likely used when there have been changes to the fireplace system. This can include changing the fuel source (such as going from wood to gas), the relining of the chimney or flue, or the addition or replacement of an appliance. Likewise, if you have experienced an earthquake, fire, or other natural disaster that may have caused damage to the chimney structure this level of inspection is recommended. Finally, if you are selling your home a Level II chimney inspection may be required.

A Level II inspection is a more detailed and in-depth look at your chimney and fireplace structure. Technology such as closed circuit cameras may be used, and technicians will often need access to attic or crawlspace areas.

Level III

The Level III inspection is the most in-depth and comprehensive. In addition to all of the areas covered by the Level I and II inspections, Level III inspections involve removing specific parts of the chimney in order to complete the examination. This may include removing parts of the chimney crown or cap or parts of the interior chimney wall. Because of the intrusive and destructive nature of a Level III inspection, they are only performed when serious structural damage to a chimney is suspected.

The experts at Pristine Sweeps can help you identify what level of chimney inspection your home needs. Contact them today to have your fireplace and chimney inspected before the first cold weather hits.

Get a Head Start on Chimney Maintenance

As the reality of colder temperatures gets closer, many homeowners have begun to think about their fireplaces for the first time since spring. While fireplaces and chimneys are built to withstand the elements, effective annual maintenance is a way to guarantee that they will continue to work their best for years to come.

Disuse during warmer months often leaves chimneys and fireplaces unprepared for the first cozy fires of the fall. Because of this, it is recommended that homeowners have their fireplaces and chimneys inspected before they begin using them each season.

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How often should chimneys be cleaned or inspected?

Although fireplace and chimney maintenance often takes a backseat to other home improvement projects, it is important that these systems are annually inspected to ensure they remain structurally sound and are safe to use. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”

Based on this standard, the CSIA, or Chimney Safety Institute of America, recommends that chimneys, flues, and fireplaces be cleaned at least once per year. While an annual cleaning and inspection may seem excessive, it is a necessary part of correct fireplace maintenance. Annual sweepings prevent the buildup of creosote, a flammable buildup created by wood-burning fires, and excessive soot, which can have a permanent, damaging effect on the fireplace masonry. In addition, an annual inspection ensures that small problems can be found and fixed before they turn into larger – and costlier – issues.

What to expect during an annual inspection

For homeowners whose chimneys and fireplaces receive regular maintenance and cleaning, the chimney sweep will likely perform a basic, Level I inspection. In addition to the cleaning process, the technician will inspect all accessible parts of both the exterior and interior of the chimney, including the masonry of the chimney structure and the fireplace hardware. The flue and chimney will also be checked for any signs of debris of blockages. Lastly, the technician will measure the amount of creosote present in the chimney, ensuring that this highly-flammable byproduct of wood-burning fires is completely removed.

In the event that a problem is uncovered during the inspection, a more in-depth Level II or Level III inspection can be performed. The highly skilled technicians at Pristine Sweeps are trained to not just find and diagnose a problem, but to complete the necessary fireplace and chimney repairs.

The importance of preventative maintenance

One of the most important steps homeowners can take to increase the longevity of their fireplaces is to have regular preventative maintenance done. While an annual inspection and cleaning might seem like an unnecessary expense – especially for those who do not regularly use their fireplaces – doing so can often prevent the necessity of costly repairs.

By investing in preventative maintenance measures such as waterproofing, a new or repaired chimney crown, or tuckpointing to repair damaged mortar, homeowners can rest assured that their fireplaces will continue to provide them with a warm atmosphere and ambiance year after year.